West Virginia has too many children who fail to show up for school on a regular basis. Data from the state’s 2022-2023 Balanced Scorecard find that 28 percent of K-12 students are chronically absent, meaning they miss more than ten percent of the instructional days.
That number is about the same as the previous year, but also significantly higher than before Covid, when the rate was closer to 20 percent. Georgia Hughes-Webb, director of Data Analysis and Research for the state Department of Education said high absenteeism is a problem.
“Students have to be in school in order to be successful,” she said.
For example, Hughes-Webb said, the data show that students who are consistently present in class have a 46 percent proficiency rate in English Language Arts, while students who are chronically absent have a 33 percent rate. For math, students consistently present have a 39 percent proficiency rate, but the chronically absent rate is 21 percent.
There is a lot of research linking chronic absenteeism to myriad problems other than academic performance. The Biden administration released a report earlier this month stating, “Beyond test scores, irregular attendance can be a predictor of high school drop-out, which has been linked to poor labor market prospects, diminished health, and increased involvement in the criminal justice system.”
Think about that for a minute. One in four students in West Virginia is potentially headed down a difficult life track because they miss too much school.
The chronically absent students also make it more difficult for every other student and the teacher. Teachers are challenged with delivering the daily lesson plan and advancing the students who are showing up, while at the same time helping students who have missed days to catch up.
The West Virginia data also show most student absences are unexcused. In a perfect world, the parent or guardian would ensure the child goes to school, but our state has more than its share of socio-economic challenges. A simple phone call to the parents may have worked at one time, but it is not as effective as it used to be.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said. “They just don’t want to go to school, and there is no one at home to get them to go to school.”
The state has a truancy law that establishes fines and penalties for parents of students who are chronically absent, but enforcement is spotty, and its effectiveness is questionable. Hughes-Webb said the state has a new initiative where counties can collaborate to exchange ideas on dealing with truancy.
In addition, Hughes-Webb said, the state’s Communities in Schools program is helping. It connects struggling families with resources tailored to their specific needs. The hope is that if a family is more stable it will increase the likelihood of the children getting to school.
West Virginia student standardized test scores are well below the national average, and there is consensus in the academic community that we need to do better. Frankly, the problem seems insurmountable as long as one in four students routinely does not show up for class.